Why don't you feel you are sensitive to caffeine?

Caffeine appeared to have a bigger impact on my life than I expected. Follow how I went from 10 cups a day to 0 and the impact on my health, sensitivity and axiety. Do you think you are immune to the effects of caffeine? Maybe you consider yourself an evening person? Why not go into caffeine rehab and see if you are truly not sensitive to coffee.

May 2016

Caffeine is arguably the most used (legal) psychoactive drug in the world. You are probably someone who takes in some quantity of caffeine on a daily basis. Swell amounts of caffeine is found in a flurry of products like coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks and chocolate. Yes, chocolate!

Can you not relate at all to people who feel a buzz when they take a cup of coffee, or claim they can't fall asleep anymore when drinking a cup after dinner or sometimes even past noon? Me neither, I never considered myself sensitive to coffee, I could drink coffee at 10pm and it would not change my sleep. Highly Sensitive People (HSP) are known to be sensitive to caffeine. I felt flaky, because it is one of the few HSP symptoms I could not relate with.

Somewhere in March I started to ponder on my relation with caffeine. And then I decided to go cold turkey and stop taking in caffeine. My experiment: I went into caffeine-rehab.

My conclusion: if you are always high on caffeine you are no longer sensitive and my denial was just my storytelling brain sugar caking my addiction. The withdrawal symptoms are real for me and the effects of being ‘clean’ are too.

My relation to caffeine

I only started drinking coffee in my early twenties. The taste disgusted me; I have a theory that is true for everyone but that’s another story. Only when I got a more regular job, as a PhD researcher, at a start-up and as a college degree lecturer, I started to take in up to 10 cups a day. Out of habit.

However, since when I was a critter I have been drinking Coke in swell amounts as well. There has been a brief moment where I did not drink Coke when I had braces somewhere in my early teens, but for most of my life I’ve been high on caffeine.

Now I’ve always said to people about myself, and maybe you can relate, that I’m an evening person. I can work till very late at night, I only get active after 9pm. I just don’t need a lot of sleep.

Caffeine rehabilitation

I now doubt those assertions. So what happened when I just cut the caffeine out of my life?

Week 1

The first day without caffeine wasn’t so bad. I've done that plenty of times in the weekends. Usually though I will find some time to drink coffee during the weekend too at breakfast, when sitting down at a museum, visiting people or at a restaurant. If the weather is nice or if I feel overheated I will have that bottle of Coke Zero in the fridge.

By the time day three arrived, I became a total wreck. Every muscle ached and felt exhausted. I had an enduring light headache. The exhaustion felt unreal, because while I could move around peachy, it felt like I would not be able to lift my arm. In the evenings there was also real tiredness though. Instead of going to bed at midnight or 1am, I was completely exhausted by 9pm and went to bed before 10pm.

Consequently I was wide awake that week at 5am every morning. Normally, I wake up at 7am by the grace of the alarm clock in a state of exhaustion and general reluctance to get up and start the day.

Waking up way too early is a nice withdrawal effect though. I can prepare for my work day, do the annoying chores I would not get to during office hours and start at the office ready to take on the day instead of working against a backlog of todo items.

Another thing is setting the breakfast table and finally having sit-down breakfasts with the whole family. No more running around making sandwiches, packing lunches for the children, eating half sitting down half standing up, quickly putting some food items in a plastic bag to eat while commuting or at my office.

Week 2

While the exhaustion stayed and the muscle ache was still there to some degree, also a sense of calmness came over me. In the second week I also found out I hadn’t gone cold turkey after all. Silly as I am I had still been drinking green tea. Marketed as healthy, in my head it was also caffeine free, which it is most definitely not. One day I drank 10 cups of green tea which relieved my muscle aches but also caused my calmness to be replaced by my usual constant fight-or-flight feeling.

I immediately realised my misstep and took the green tea out of my new drinking diet.

The following weeks

The next week I was back to square one. Muscle aches again, total exhaustion. Stupid green tea! Now, a few weeks later the exhaustion is becoming a bit less pronounced and the muscle aches are also gone. I don’t wake up at 5am anymore, but naturally around 6:30, before the alarm clock but most importantly revitalised. I don’t go to bed around 10pm, I can stretch it to midnight again but I do feel my body wants to turn in earlier. I’ve been a lot calmer on the inside than before and I hope that feeling stays. On the downside I’ve become a lot more forgetful. I guess the caffeine kept me so much on edge that I would not allow myself to forget anything. Now, I’m more as how I remember myself as a young kid; being completely oblivious to where I left things and that I have to be places.

My new relationship to caffeine

It has been a peachy personal experiment. I’m not here to draw universal conclusions as that is against the principles of an imaginative idealist. I probably will start drinking caffeinated drinks again in the future, but with mindfulness. I am sensitive to coffee, if I don’t drink regularly.

I find that the alternatives are plenty. Most soft-drinks don’t contain caffeine so they can replace cola without problems (well there is the sugar thing, but that’s another story).

Instead of coffee, I usually drink infusions now such as Rooibos, mint or other herbal teas and fruit extracts. Watch out though, many caffeine-free infusions contain liquorice which can cause high blood pressure when you take more than a few cups. If you are used to drinking 10 cups of coffee a day and replace it with 10 cups of something else, make sure to alternate between the different infusions. The fragrance and taste of many herbs is slightly poisonous and while small in quantity I suggest not drinking one type of infusion.

I have ordered decaf coffee a few times now. Contrary to what you may think, most decaf blends still contain about 10% of the caffeine compared to regular coffee. But one cup won’t do much I harm I think. I did notice now that decaf is utterly tasteless, something I never realised when I drank regular coffee as well! A colleague of mine that I accidentally inspired to stop as well is drinking a sort coffee taste and look-a-like based on a blend of chicory, grains and malts. It feels a bit like the equivalent of eating vegetarian steaks and hamburgers, but the taste is quite all right.

Questions left and caffeine in society

To make the experiment a bit less flaky, it would be interesting to find out how long it takes for caffeine to leave your body. And what does it even do, chemically? (Answer can be found on Wikipedia of course.)

What interests me even more is that we have a society that runs on caffeinated people. Research has indicated (I’m not saying proven) that swell coffee is vital for the productivity and happiness in a company. Can we optimise productivity and happiness by combining the right blend of drugs? It feels like a bad road to take. Maybe society should not change its people to fit certain needs, but the needs should follow our nature.


If you are planning to experiment with taking caffeine out of your life let me know. I am very interested in hearing your rehab stories, and your ideas about what this means for our society.